Issue 8: What is Disruptive Innovation?
Question for the week:
Is “incremental” innovation superior to “disruptive” innovation?
The “debate” about “incremental” versus “disruptive” innovation in this issue of the Economist is an excellent read and well worth your time this weekend.
Here are a few thoughts from the debates’ moderator, the person arguing that “incremental” innovation is superior and the person arguing that “disruptive” innovation is superior. We hope it helps spark your interest.
Upon reading the article, which do you think is superior – “incremental” innovation or “disruptive” innovation?
MODERATOR, OPENING REMARKS
“There is no fiercer argument among technologists than the topic of disruptive versus incremental innovation. What is more important: big breakthroughs or steady optimization?
Of course both are needed. But how one comes down on the debate matters a lot. It affects the priorities of companies, public policy, research funding, schools and even employees. It is about a society’s values.
INCREMENTAL INNOVATION IS SUPERIOR
William H. Saito
“Growing up in the West, we learn the myth of disruptive innovation early on. We are taught that inventions such as the telegraph, telephone, car, airplane and yes, even things like the iPod and Google prove that real genius lies in inventing something that shakes up the world and shatters the status quo. We instinctively prefer sensational, disruptive innovation because it catches our attention and it reflects the qualities in both the individual and the organisation that we admire most.
Yet I believe that the Western emphasis on disruptive innovation is not as desirable–for either a company or an economy–as a culture of steady, incremental innovation such as that found in Japan.”
DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION IS SUPERIOR
Douglas C. Merrill
“Hundreds of books have been written about innovation. Entire forests have given their lives to the topic. Yet much of the result has been, at best, glib. A more practical way to appreciate it is with a simple truth: companies that fail to change are consigned to the dustbin of history as their markets change and the world moves on.
To understand why disruptive innovation is better than the incremental variety, it is necessary to define “better”; we need to know the goal. I assert the goal of innovation is “to win in current markets and grow into new ones.”
Thus, the issue becomes whether incremental change makes it more likely that your company will win. Alternatively, does disruptive change that creates new value from the Phoenix-like ashes of the past improve your chances?
Disruptive innovation does not mean tossing aside all that came before. Nor does it mean having one’s employees spend all their time trying to come up with something-anything-new. These are chimerical arguments.